Mark S. Weiner

A Talk with the German Minister of Justice

In Conversations, Europe, Germany on December 3, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Greetings from Würzburg, Germany! As never fails, I’m having a great time in this beautiful, vibrant town, with its baroque castle overlooking a living, modern city center. A cold front recently descended from the east, and when night falls, the streets are illuminated as much from snowflakes gently drifting through the air as from the glow of street lamps. Plus the country knows a thing or two about how to celebrate Christmas with true community spirit, so there have been plenty of opportunities for me to drink mulled wine and eat Nutella-filled crepes at the shimmering Christmas market.

There’s also never been a dull moment intellectually. This Friday and Saturday, I held an intensive class about American constitutional law for German students—how intensive? Saturday’s class lasted eight hours!—tomorrow I’ll be giving a public lecture about The Rule of the Clan (in fact, I just finished reading the final proofs!), yesterday I conducted a spirited interview with a German law professor (question: if German law were a composer, which would it be? Answer, naturally: Bach), and all of the moments in between have been filled with political and philosophical conversations.

But best of all was today. In the afternoon, I attended a coffee hour with the German Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who spoke about a wide range of policy issues with a small group of faculty and local professionals. I was really impressed with her openness, intelligence, and thoughtfulness—but the discussion over Kaffee und Kuchen was nothing compared with the talk about German law in an age of globalization she gave almost immediately afterward to an audience several hundred (I was seated in the front row). The talk was sponsored by an innovative program at the University of Würzburg in “global systems and intercultural competence,” and it would have done credit to any university academic. One of her main points was that Germany should seek to export its legal ideas as actively and effectively as Britain and the United States have done—which certainly seemed eminently sensible. I kept thinking how lucky Germans are to have a political culture that nurtures someone like her.

German Minister

And then, amazingly, I got the chance to interview the minister one-on-one. It wasn’t a long interview, just ten minutes or so. And she was clearly a bit tired, having been working since the crack of dawn—and having just spoken passionately for many hours about some very difficult issues. But it was a complete thrill, and she was fantastic—not only smart and tough, but also warm. Among other topics, we talked about the threat that internet companies based in America pose to citizen privacy in Europe, the legislative protection of circumcision in Germany in the wake of a controversial court ruling prohibiting the practice, and the fact that German law students don’t pay tuition—a policy that, as a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party, she opposes.

I’m looking forward to posting excerpts from the interview soon.

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